The move to ease norms for expansion of coal mines, intended to benefit miners and increase output of coal for the power sector, could backfire on these companies, say activists.
While the pro-industry move is likely to benefit the public sector Coal India Ltd, which aims to increase output by at least 30-40 million tonnes, activists feel this could result in bottlenecks as lack of public hearing is likely to face stiff resistance from locals.
Private entities such as Tata Steel, Sasan Power Ltd have also lined up expansion projects. Tata Steel has applied to the Environment Ministry for expansion of some of its captive mines, while Reliance Power-owned Sasan plans to increase output from two coal blocks in Madhya Pradesh by a total of 7 MPTA.
“These notifications are not only environmentally damaging, but would also hurt development. People will oppose this. Public hearings are meant to take people into confidence,” said Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director-General, Centre for Science and Environment.
The trend started by former Minister of Environment Jayanthi Natarajan of exempting coal mines from conducting public hearing before expanding output, has been further bolstered by the current minister Prakash Javadekar.
In December 2012, Natarajan had changed the rules to allow coal mines to expand operations by 25 per cent for mines with capacity of 8 MPTA without conducting a public hearing. However, Javadekar has now increased this to allow expansion up to 50 per cent for mines under 16 MPTA capacity without public hearing. Further, even mines over 16 MPTA would also be allowed to expand capacity without public hearing provided the expansion is not over 5 MPTA.
In the past, public hearings on expansion of mines have also resulted in protests and litigations.
The Hindu Business Line